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Campaigners snubbed by deaths in custody review

CRITICISM: Matilda MacAttram (left) with Marcia Rigg-Samuel

CAMPAIGNERS HAVE slammed the Metropolitan Police’s planned review into how officers handle deaths in custody involving people with mental health issues.

Lobby group INQUEST and director of Black Mental Health UK (BMHUK) Matilda MacAttram have branded the move “cosmetic”, arguing they and death in custody families have been locked out.

“Black Mental Health UK is the only organisation in the mental health sector that has been working in the area of deaths in custody, mental health and the impact on ethnic minorities for the past few years.

'This is the area where the death rates and most disturbing incidences involving the police and mental health service users occur,” MacAttram told The Voice .

“It is deeply concerning to see the exclusion of the key agencies who have a track record of working in this area, and with the families affected by this issue excluded from this Commission on Policing and Mental Health.”

Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the social enterprise Turning point, will lead the independent review panel.

It was set up following the deaths of university student Olaseni Lewis and musician Sean Rigg, who both died in police custody after being restrained by officers while having a mental health crisis.


RESTRAINED: Sean Rigg

The Met said the panel would examine all aspects of police interaction including call handling, custody procedures as well as how they work with partner agencies.

It will also examine cases over the past five years where someone with a mental illness has either been seriously injured or died in police custody.

Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said: “A number of cases have highlighted concerns with how police respond to people with mental health conditions. Recommendation made by the commission will be presented to the Met in February 2013. It’s report will then be made public.”

But MacAttram said: “This is nothing more than a cosmetic exercise, which will not result in any positive change.”

Deborah Coles, INQUEST’s co-director also questioned the review’s outcome.

‘INQUEST is concerned about the effectiveness of the Metropolitan Police’s review that has been commissioned without any prior consultation or discussion with those best placed to speak from experience: the families and organisations such as INQUEST that work directly with them,’ Coles said.


DIED IN STATE CUSTODY: Olaseni Lewis

‘The independent experts involved in the review have considerable mental health expertise but there is a glaring omission of anyone with specialist knowledge and a history of work on deaths following police contact.’

Coles added: ‘INQUEST and the families with whom we work want, and would welcome, a rigorous and critical review which draws on recommendations from previous investigations, inquests and reviews and examine what happened to them.

‘Without this expertise, the review may fail to address the serious issues about policing and mental health that have emerged from previous deaths including the use of restraint and the disproportionate number of deaths of young black men.’

Marcia Rigg-Samuel, Sean’s sister, also criticised the Met’s decision.

‘They say they want families involved but failed to consult us in advance or discuss the terms of reference. This is necessary in order for there to be family confidence in the review which is addressing the issues of most concern to families,’ Rigg-Samuel said.

‘My concern is they are trying to avoid dealing with the really important and embarrassing issues about how the police respond to people with mental health problems.’

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